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Apples grow larger when cells don't divide, study shows
Date:6/30/2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Fast-food restaurants can supersize French fries and drinks, but Mother Nature has found a way to supersize a type of apple.

Peter Hirst, a Purdue University associate professor of horticulture, found that an anomaly in some Gala apple trees causes some apples to grow much larger than others because cells aren't splitting. The findings, reported in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany, showed that the new variety, called Grand Gala, is about 38 percent heavier and has a diameter 15 percent larger than regular Galas.

"It's never been found in apples before," Hirst said. "This is an oddball phenomenon in the apple world."

Hirst is trying to understand what causes the difference in the size of apples - for instance, why Gala apples are so much larger than crabapples.

"There is real incentive for fruit growers to increase the size of their apples," Hirst said. "At 125 apples per bushel, a grower gets 8 cents per apple. But if they have larger apples - 88 per bushel - the price more than doubles."

Since different apple varieties don't always have the same genes controlling the same functions, comparing Galas to crabapples isn't an easy way to understand the mechanisms that control their destined sizes. But the Grand Gala seemed like it might provide an opportunity to unravel the mystery.

"The way the Grand Gala was found was that someone in an orchard full of Gala trees noticed that one branch had different-sized apples than the rest of the tree. They grafted new trees from this branch to started a new tree," Hirst said. "These are just chance events."

Larger apples tend to have more cells than their smaller counterparts, so Hirst theorized that there was a gene or genes that kept cell division turned on in Grand Gala. Instead, he found that Grand Gala had about the same number of cells as a regular Gala, but those cells were larger.

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Contact: Brian Wallheimer
bwallhei@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert  

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